Business World

Thursday 22 February 2018

Profile: Papandreou’s journey to role as Prime Minister

Geoff Meade

JUST before being elected as Greek prime minister two years ago, George Papandreou said he went into politics to rid his country of the "huge upheavals" and struggles of the years of dictatorship.

Dictatorship in Greece is long dead, but the calm, quietly-spoken man who remains - just - prime minister, has triggered an upheaval which has rocked the European Union and held the attention of world leaders meeting in Cannes.

Mr Papandreou, 59, was born in America when his father was in exile, but was raised with Greek politics in his blood and has led the PASOK Socialist party since 2004.

His grandfather George Senior and father Andreas both served as prime ministers of Greece.

On election in October 2009, George junior vowed to revive the country's struggling economy with a multi-billion euro financial injection to boost jobs and growth and tackle corruption.

But he had inherited a financial mess much worse than anticipated and, after initial emphatic resistance, admitted that Greece did, after all, need EU financial assistance.

It was the start of a fight to enforce deep austerity measures which triggered a public backlash, and led Mr Papandreou to gamble all this week by offering a referendum giving his people a say in the medicine they were being asked to swallow.

The unassuming, charming man who speaks English as well as Greek, triggered the wrath of key EU leaders embarrassed by the surprise referendum call, just when they had finalised another bail-out deal for Greece and a 50pc write-down of Greek debt.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy questioned why Greece had been allowed to join the European Union, let alone the single currency, in the first place.

But Mr Papandreou stuck to his guns - until support began to crumble even among his political allies at home.

He faces a confidence vote of parliament today - a vote which could end his political career without any of his reforming pledges being fulfilled.

Mr Papandreou spent his early years in America and Canada, until his family returned to Greece in 1961.

By 1967 they had fled the country again, after his father was imprisoned for eight months by the then military dictatorship.

Studies in Sweden and Canada were followed by degrees from Amherst College, the London School of Economics and Harvard University.

Back in Greece after the junta fell, Mr Papandreou was elected to parliament in 1981 - the same year his father became prime minister.

George Papandreou rose through ministerial posts to become foreign minister in 1999, helping restore Greece's relations with neighbouring Turkey and Albania.

He also oversaw the country's hosting of the 2004 Summer Olympics, the first Games in Greece for more than 100 years.

But in power his efforts at more openness and transparency were overshadowed by the sheer scale of the economic crisis.

Two years ago, he said: "If Greece had gone through a very normal political life, I may have not been in politics."

The political life of Mr Papandreou and of his country are anything but normal now.

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